Saturday, December 10, 2011

Battle at the Barracoon

Dawn breaks over east Africa, and the gates of Yabhouti swing open. 

Sergeant Albert Harrington led his men through the gates and out onto the trail leading to the barracoon. The hateful structure squatted like a toad at the far side of the cleared area, the smokestack of the pump-house supplying water to it poking up to one side. Albert had the mission clear in his mind. With Colonel Trollope himself looking on from a nearby rooftop, Harrington felt determined to perform the task of destroying the slavers' structures as briskly as possible. 

No sooner had the section set foot on the track than Harrington's keen eye spotted movement in a nearby copse. Dark figures rose up like wraiths from ground still smudged with early-morning mist, hostile intent evident in their every move.

"Action right!" Harrington snapped. "First section, line up!" The men moved from column into line alongside the track. "Make ready!" The rifles came up. "Present!" The barrels dropped level. "Fire!"   

The native party, about a dozen strong, lost five men to the volley, but they didn't waver. With an eerie war cry they surged into contact, and the fight was on.

Harrington and his men fought and swore, parrying and thrusting with bayonet and rifle butt. A native ducked under Harrington's rifle and stabbed with his spear. Harrington grunted as the sharp steel point pierced his sleeve and scoured a hot line along his left forwarm. The warrior had left himself exposed to a quick thrust with the bayonet, and fell screaming as Harrington pinned him to the dirt.

Two men of his section fell, including Lance Corporal White, but the fight grew too hot for the natives. They withdrew, at first sullenly, then with greater speed as the British soldiers chased them off with a volley.

Harrington watched them go as he favoured his wounded arm. Bloody aggressive of them to lurk in ambush here, he thought. Had there been more of them, they might've gained entry to the town

There was no further time to spend speculating; the mission had to be carried out, although Harrington resolved to keep a careful watch on the scrub surrounding the area in case other surprises lay in wait. He saw medical personnel waiting behind Corporal Gedge's section, and signalled them to come forward to tend to the two men wounded in the fighting.

"Are you all right, sarge?" Private Bell asked. 
"Yes, John," Harrington replied, fishing a kerchief from his pocket. "Tie this bloody arm up for me, and we'll get on with the job." 

With the way cleared, Corporal Gedge chivvied the former wangwana along the track toward the barracoon. The former native auxilliary troops seemed nervous. I don't blame 'em, Gedge thought, eying them with disfavor. They're no kind of soldier, and they're scared witless they might meet their former master. Still, orders were orders. He had to escort and protect them whilst they burned the barracoon, and he'd do his best to ensure it all happened according to the Lieutenant's plan.

His arm bound up, Harrington moved his section forward quickly, the sooner to occupy the area around the barracoon and sieze control of the pump house. The boiler itself looked a minor marvel of engineering, and quite out of place in such surroundings. Harrington eyed it, and signalled for Private Bishop to come over to him. "You've had some experience of these things, Bishop," he said. "What do you make of it?"

Bishop looked at the machinery and sucked his teeth. "It's German, at a guess. They like those fancy rivetted seams."

"Hmm. German, eh?" Harrington filed the information away. "Well, take a couple of bits off so it don't work, and - what the -?"

An inhuman scream rang out from the scrub some distance away. The whole section seemed to jerk in surprise, then stare as a mass of natives erupted from cover some yards away. "Don't bloody well stand gawping!" Harrington shouted. "Get fell in and give 'em toker!"

The section gathered its collective wits and stood-to. Levelling their Martini-Henrys, they laid a withering fire into the onrushing horde. Harrington watched the proceedings, ready to suppress any tendency of his men to fire wild. His intervention wasn't needed. The native attack shrivelled and died, the survivors melting away into the brush.

Corporal Gedge divided his section into two parties and lined them up almost back-to-back, the better to watch their surroundings whilst the wangwana got to work torching the barracoon. They worked with a will, and as they withdrew from the compound, smoke and flames rose into the air and drifted away on the southeast wind.

Gedge nodded, satisfied. He was about to send a message to the sergeant that the job was done when his eye was caught by movement in the scrubland to the south. Almost before he'd formed the thought of ambush! muskets cracked and the air filled with the woosh and buzz of bullets. Something slammed into Gedge's left leg and he staggered and fell, clutching the wound.

"Get fell in!" he cried, turning to shout at the party watching the north. "Line up and -" Something slammed into his back and head, and he knew no more.

Sahid Lohar nodded in satisfaction. I've caught the Red Soldiers napping! he gloated. Now to destroy them and those turncoat scum. Soon, Yabhouti shall be my Master's again!

The British soldiers returned fire as best they could, but the shock of ambush and the effectiveness of the Arab fire had shattered their morale.

The British fell back, and Lohar directed some of his men to fire on the wangwana emerging through the gate of the compound. Unable to run back due to the fires, unwilling to run forward due to the musketry, the hapless men were caught between a rock and a hard place. They fell to a man. Lohar nodded again, and redirected his men to finish off the Red Men. Soon, only one was left, and he running for his life.

Harrington heard the sounds of one-sided firing. Too much musketry, and the distinctive sound of the Martini-Henry soon died away. That sounds like trouble, and no error! he thought.

As he and his men rounded the corner of the now fiercely-burning barracoon, they saw an awful scene of slaughter. "Bloody 'ell!" someone muttered behind him.

"Quiet, back there!" Harrington snapped, taking in the situation. The Arab position in the scrub fumed with gunsmoke, but he could see a blue-clad figure gesturing to the others. An officer - or equivalent! "Right, sunshine, we'll deal with you now," he muttered. Aloud, he called "Lewis! Step to the front, lad." As Private Lewis came up, Harrington pointed at the distant figure. "Shoot that cove in the blue."

"Righty-ho, sarge," Lewis replied, phlegmatic as always. 

Licking his thumb, he wetted the backsight on his Martini-Henry, and cocked an eye at the plumes of smoke boiling off the barracoon to gauge wind direction and strength. Taking careful aim at the distant figure, he squeezed the trigger.

Blue robe stopped capering, spun, and dropped like a stone. A cheer went up from the section and Harrington allowed himself a sigh of relief. "Right, let's sort out this mess." Trotting out into the open, he held up his good arm. "Fall into line here. Load it if you haven't!"

The section hastened into position. Harrington eyed the confusion evident in the scrub. With their leader down and out, the Arabs had fallen into disarray. We'll add to their distress, I think. "Make ready!" The rifles came up. "Present!" The barrels dropped level. "Five rounds rapid, fire!"

The terrible British volley fire rang out again. The scourge of enemies for almost two centuries, it played hell with the lurking Arab warriors. Partially concealed in the scrub as they were, Harrington could still see them fall in droves.

Gunsmoke tainted the air as Harrington and his men fired steadily. Soon, the Arabs were withdrawing. "Cease volley fire," Harrington shouted, his voice sounding flat to his ears after the cacophany of firing. "Advance five paces and fire at will." 

The section complied, reoccupying the lost ground. One fired a single shot whenever a target presented itself, but the firing soon ceased altogether. Wounded Redcoats and wangwana both stirred and cried out. Others lay ominously still.

With the end of the fight, Harrington sighed. This had been a bloody one, but the job was done. Satisfied the enemy had withdrawn and no further threat offered, he walked out onto the track where he could be seen from the town, and signalled. Soon, medical help emerged from the town gate, and Harrington and his men set to work tending to the wounded. 

Colonel Trollope and Lieutenant Pike watched the fighting from their vantage point on the roof of a merchant's townhouse. As the firing died away, Trollope sighed and lit a cigar. He shook the match to extinguish it, then gestured to the scene of conflict, the smoke from his cigar rising to match that of the burning barracoon.

"A bloody business, Pike," Trollope said. "Still, the job's done. That wretched barracoon is no more, and, as a bonus, we appear to have destroyed the last viable force the Sheik has in this area. It's given the natives something to think about, too."

"Yes, sir," Pike replied, looking out at the scene. "With your permission, sir, I'll go see to my men."

"Quite right, my boy, by all means." As Pike saluted and turned to go, Trollope added "Make sure those poor native fellows get treatment, too. They came on like brave 'uns today."

"Yes, sir." Pike saluted again and clattered down the steps to the street. Trollope stood, watching the scene and drawing deep on his cigar. One piece of business taken care of, he thought, before turning his mind to future projects.
* * *
So there we have it. The Battle of the Barracoon was the bloodiest of the three actions fought so far, with British casualties numbering four dead and three men no longer fit for service. Second section will need to be reconstituted before the Barsetshires can take to the field again. At least Colonel Trollope has the comfort in knowing the town and area around it is now secure. 

So far, the Sharp Practice rules are working out well, along with some home-grown tweaks to aid solo and campaign play. I'll write up some thoughts on aspects of the game in the near future.



Jiminho said...

Hi AJ,

That was a very dramatic and brisk little action. Nice report and I like the touched up photos as well. It looks like fun was had by all!


Tim said...

Great report AJ! Looks like it was a lot of fun.


A J said...

Thanks, gentlemen! Although it was fought solo, I did have fun since the outcome was in doubt nearly to the last.


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